Mat-Su school board gets earful during extensive testimony on teacher contract negotiations

The board also approved a reduced credit requirement for this year’s graduating seniors
The school board for the Mat-Su Borough School District met on September 2, 2020.
The school board for the Mat-Su Borough School District met on September 2, 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 12:31 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Wednesday night’s Mat-Su Borough School District School Board meeting attracted a full roster of people wanting to submit public comment. Instead of testimony for items on the official agenda, however, comments were mainly focused on one particular item off of it: Teacher contract negotiations, which are now at risk of triggering a strike following a threat by the union in the Valley.

The meeting in Palmer included multiple big-ticket items, starting with the public testimony focused on the board’s frozen contract negotiations with the teachers’ union. Most of the speakers - though not all of them - were looking for additional benefits for those working in borough classrooms.

“We hide our anxiety and summon the best of ourselves each day,” said teacher Nancy Blake, “so our students will feel safe, and maybe even learn. We do what we need to do to get the job done. Now, it’s your turn.”

Tim Walters, another Mat-Su teacher, also questioned the board’s actions regarding a new contract.

“What’re you guys doing?” he said. “Seriously: We heard the mission of the Mat-Su school district is to be a model in teaching. Part of that should be supporting teachers, maybe? It doesn’t feel that way, not at all.”

A former teacher who retired in the 1980s and testified on Wednesday said she went through hiring and wage freezes, with several years straight of no added bonuses or other benefits.

“We didn’t get anything,” said Carol Carmen. “It was difficult. So, I’m really pretty amazed that the school board is making an offer of raises to the teachers during this really difficult time. Wow. That’s amazing. And a bonus? I think the offer is very generous.”

Mat-Su Education Association President Dianne K. Shibe pushed for the board to return to the negotiating table after the school board submitted what it called its “last, best offer” earlier this week.

“We’ve been working for a year-and-a-half," she said, "until you walked away from the table."

No official action was taken on the teachers’ contracts during Wednesday’s regular meeting, though the board met in a closed-door executive session immediately after that.

Separately, and beyond public testimony, the board moved to approve a motion to reduce graduation requirements only for this year’s high school seniors. The change specifically cuts back general electives requirements by two credits, moving the credit demands to 22.5 credits from 24.5. That motion passed unanimously.

Also under consideration, as a non-action item was a set of proposed fall budget revisions, specifically to the FY2021 budget.

The next main meeting involving the school board will be a joint meeting with the Mat-Su Borough Assembly on September 8. That event will take place inside the Assembly chambers.

The next regular school board meeting has been set for September 16 and will commence in the usual meeting space at the MSBSD headquarters.

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